'Appalachian Spring Tea' supports Swannanoa Valley Museum

Special to Black Mountain News
Dr. Willis D. Weatherford and his wife Julia prepare to lead hikers to Mount Mitchell in the 1920s.

History lovers and those who enjoy the sweet and savory tastes of a formal tea will gather at “Far Horizons”- the historic Weatherford home in Blue Ridge Assembly- on Saturday, April 27, for a special celebration of spring. The tea will be offered in two seatings, from 11 a.m. - 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. - 4 p.m.

Tea offerings will include sweet, savory, and scone courses (with homemade jam and clotted cream) as well as bottomless cups of freshly-brewed tea. Music duo StrathSpan will perform Scottish music with an innovative flair on fiddle and cello.

A short talk will also be given by Julia Weatherford, granddaughter of Dr. Willis Weatherford, Sr., founder of the YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly.

Julia will discuss the history of the Far Horizons home, her grandfather’s legacy and her grandmother’s life. With this event, Far Horizons—completed in 1940—will be open through a special one-time arrangement with the Weatherford family and Blue Ridge Assembly.

Advance ticket purchase is required.

W.D. Weatherford, the Blue Ridge Assembly, and Far Horizons

Dr. Willis D. Weatherford and his wife Julia stand behind Far Horizons, their Blue Ridge Assembly home, in 1940.

The YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly was founded in 1906 by educator, author, and religious leader Willis D. Weatherford (1875-1970). As a student at Vanderbilt University, he became involved in the student Young Men’s Christian Association.

In 1906, Willis traveled to the Blue Ridge Mountains by horse and buggy, seeking a permanent location for YMCA student training sessions.

According to tradition, when he reached the present site of Blue Ridge Assembly, between two steep forested ridges of the Swannanoa Mountains two miles from Black Mountain, he exclaimed, “Eureka, we have found it!”

The enterprising educator raised half a million dollars to finance the construction of the Blue Ridge Assembly.

In addition to acting as the conference center’s president until 1944, Willis was the president of the YMCA Graduate School and faculty member at Fisk University and Berea College. His travels to college campuses across the South in the Jim Crow era made him acutely aware of race relations.

In 1910 he published the widely distributed “Negro Life in the South,” the first of several books by Willis concerning racial equality. In subsequent years, he organized interracial conferences on social issues attended by college students, faculty, clergy, and politicians from both the North and the South.

His commitment to social justice lasted the entirety of his career and is reflected in one of the Assembly’s principles that every person “is worthy of love and respect.”

Willis also supported Appalachian culture, in part by collecting the works of local chair makers and woodworkers, including the carvings of noted woodcarver Wayne Martin.

In the late 1930s, he began construction of the Far Horizons home on his property above the Blue Ridge Assembly. The house was designed for Willis' wife, Julia Pearl McCrory Weatherford, who became paralyzed in 1933.

Completed in 1940, Far Horizons was built as a one-story wheelchair accessible house with a far-reaching view of the mountains, meant for enjoyment by Julia as her paralysis progressed. While living at Far Horizons, the couple dressed for dinner every night, and had white linen tablecloths at every meal.

Julia always welcomed passing hikers to visit the home, and insisted they come through to stand on the porch and take in the view. Far Horizons is now under the care of the Blue Ridge Assembly.

Originally founded to host college students for summer conferences, the Blue Ridge Assembly has hosted several interesting projects and initiatives over the years.

In 1933, Black Mountain College got its start at Blue Ridge Assembly.

Educator John Rice, 10 teachers, and 22 students from Rollins College in Winter Park, began the college, which eventually moved to the other side of the Swannanoa Valley in 1937.

Amongst other highlights, the Assembly served as a training facility in 1966 for the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, and was a film site for the 2000 movie “28 Days” starring Sandra Bullock.

The Assembly currently accommodates approximately 30,000 guests each year, including families, youth, and non-profit organizations.

It hosts broad programs and many activities, including tennis, mountain biking, and adventure courses. Staying true to its founding mission, the Assembly continues to offer numerous trainings and service opportunities for youth and college-age students.